Hide and Seek Review

by Laura Clifford (laura AT reelingreviews DOT com)
February 14th, 2005


After his wife's suicide, David Callaway (Robert DeNiro) takes his ten year old, Emily (Dakota Fanning, "Man on Fire"), to a country house where they can both heal and make a fresh start. At first, David believes Emily's new imaginary friend Charlie is harmless, and her psychiatrist Katherine (Famke Janssen, "X-Men") suggests he is an acting out tool, but increasingly disturbing events lead David to question whether his daughter is becoming psychotic or her friend is flesh and blood in "Hide and Seek."

New Yorker Ari Schlossberg claims to have begun his first published screenplay by building on a fear of the woods, but what he has delivered is a hackneyed shocker stuffed full of ludicrous red herrings that does not stand up to examination once its 'twist' is revealed. Director John Polson ("Swimfan") invests the film with some genuinely creepy moments in its build, but the whole thing comes tumbling down in the third act.

Of course, Callaway procures 'the largest house of the lake' in the prosperous burg of Woodland, and is shown around by realtor Mr. Haskins (David Chandler) and Sheriff Hafferty (Dylan Baker, "Happiness"). Emily is immediately drawn to an outdoor natural arch which leads to a cave mouth and remains withdrawn - her favorite dinner goes uneaten and she dismisses dad's attempt to recreate mom's bedtime game of hide and seek.

The next day, Laura (Melissa Leo, "21 Grams"), the Callaway's neighbor, drops by with a welcoming gift of home made preserves. David takes Emily into town where he meets Elizabeth (Elizabeth Shue, "Leaving Las Vegas"), a newly divorced woman caring for her ten year old niece Amy. A play date proves disastrous, with Amy running screaming from the house, but Elizabeth returns for an even stranger dinner. Nightly recreations of Alison Callaway's bathtub suicide are increasingly disturbing and all blamed on Charlie.

Polson and his director of photography Dariusz Wolskki ("Pirates of the Carribean") utilize the claustrophobic shots traditionally used in horror films, but limit themselves to only one cheap 'startled cat' scene which actually foreshadows an upcoming scare. Even so, they light the Callaways' bathroom door from every angle, an effect which, while perhaps eerie, is distracting in its illogic. Composer John Ottman ("X2") uses Fanning's warblings in his score, echoing "Rosemary's Baby" in the early goings.
Fanning once again proves herself an actress mature beyond her years, but this material is beneath her. DeNiro's been slumming it for years and Amy Irving gets out of the picture early as his doomed wife. It is hard to believe Shue was once nominated for Best Actress anymore. Janssen is durable as Emily's trusted shrink. Every other supporting character is trotted out as a potential Charlie, with Laura's husband Steven (Robert John Burke) showing undue interest in Emily, Haskins showing up at two a.m.
to slip additional keys under the door and the Sheriff's interrogation of Emily sounding more like conspiracy. Emily's dark renderings of Charlie - children's drawings quickly becoming the biggest cliche in horror films - seem to favor likenesses of everyone but the actual. Her final piece in crayon is another piece of psychiatric illogic, a cheap thrill.

"Hide and Seek" boasts a high powered cast and throws out some satisfying crumbs, like the climatic revelation coming from a carton for 'The Padded Wagon,' but its surprise twist is more annoying than frightening. Count to ten before buying a ticket for this one.


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